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Sunday, July 21, 2013

Short Story: Formicidae

Author's Note
I always wanted the honor to write a short story that made it into college Literature textbooks. (That's right, college students! I want to be the source and topic of all your misery while writing analysis essays on English story construction!) So when reading my short stories, there's an expectancy to look beyond the initial words and plot. There' is a message I entwined within that I want my readers and audience to find. The reason why I won't tell you the message blatantly is because I am trying to set an impression that will last. So whip out those handy analysis skills that professors drill into us, and rip this baby apart with a literary scalpel.


We were the 627th Platoon. That was not some random number or a certain symbol, but part of a sequence. We were the six-hundred-and-twenty-seventh group to deploy into hostile territory. Six-hundred-and-twenty-six groups left before ours, each also numbering in the thousands, but only less than twenty would ever come back. I was not always a soldier. This may have been the Family’s 627th deployment, but this would be my first. It would be my first and it would gladly be my last; ‘gladly,’ not because I greet death with a willing embrace, but because I would do anything for my Home and my Family. I would sacrifice any comfort, any self-worth, and my very life to guarantee Mother, the Young Ones, my Brothers, and my Sisters have the food, water, and security to welcome a brighter future.

I grew up in a large family with numerous doting relatives, and I spent my early years as a middle child returning the care that was given to me. We were a House that was always bursting at the seams with so many Young Ones and so many of Us. Really, we were practically crawling over one another through the halls and chambers. Most saw our lifestyle as squalor. We were the lowest of the low, the bottom of the food chain; so far beneath the totem pole that we were the shapeless wood buried in the dirt. On top of everything, I recall no time when father was a presence in our Family. Because of this, Mother was always busy. She organized and ruled the house with a dominating authority, and the Older Siblings helped by doting on the Young Ones or providing for the Household. We did not need a father. We handled ourselves perfectly fine. This was the way things were supposed to be. We were the many that made one, and we were happy.

            I learned a lot caring for Mother and the Young Ones. It was my first taste of the responsibilities expected of me in the Outside. When I was big enough, though, I had a sudden interest to build and expand. I remember that day clearly. I happened upon the building material and investigated it with earnest. I touched, smelled, explored, and handled the material until my heart practically burst with the urge to build. It was not just me. The siblings that were my age or close to it had the same urge.

So, we built and continued building. Our House was always expanding, always growing with the overflowing numbers of us. Day and night, we toiled to create a bigger, better Home for all of the Family. We dug, we climbed, we patched and we constructed. With material several times my size and weight, each haul was the equivalent to running kilometer. I lost count of all the hauls we did a day. Without stop, we ran; back and forth, back and forth, each day, nonstop. We did not mind. We enjoyed the labor, in fact. We valued the lesson of teamwork; how success depended on the assistance and earnest heart of the brother and sisters beside you. We learned that miracles were built when diligence, trust, and comradery combined together to embrace a vision. With it came the overwhelming joy of accomplishments and the exhilarating anticipation for the next project. We were the many that made one.

We were inside, mostly, as we built from the inside-out. We were told with solemnity that the Outside was far too dangerous and we were still far too small. Deep in our hearts, we knew it was true and, because of this, we walked Outside only for a quick second to throw out needless trash and debris. Instead, Older Brothers and Sisters, better equipped and much bigger than us, would provide the supplies from Outside. Each time they returned we eagerly prompted them for stories, swarming them with a mass of reaching limbs and probing for answers. What was beyond the house? What adventures did they have? Each story was laden with strange scents, sights, and tastes; of Leviathans and monsters, of perils and challenges, of evil and good, or comrade and foe, and of life and death.

Sometimes, though, I did look around at the Outside. After each haul of trash and debris, I would look around and marveled—for just a second—at the glorious, monstrous size of the world. Really, we are so insignificant. The Leviathans barely see us, let alone acknowledge our existence, but they still avoid us. Because we were the many that made one.

When I felt the warm kisses of sun and the welcoming embrace of a cool breeze, I felt something new budding in my heart. One day… I would think as I turned back inside for another haul, one day my Brothers, Sisters, and I would explore the Outside and please the Family with endless riches. That day was not then, though. I knew it, and never fought it. For now, my place was helping Mother and the Young Ones. I was content with that.

However, that day came sooner than we all expected, and it came on the wings of disaster, death, and heartbreak. The day I was tossed into the Outside came on the day of an attack, when thousands of our Older Brothers and Sisters perished. We were always familiar with death. It was part of our lifestyle. There were sometimes fatal accidents, especially since we are easily crushed. Sometimes, while protecting Us, Mother, the Young Ones, and the Home, a Brother or Sister would valiantly fall against an Enemy or Leviathan. Our Brothers and Sisters always defended and annihilated anything before it got to our doorstep. It was an honorable death, and we were used to it, but never on this scale. This enemy, this new Leviathan, was far superior and exceeded us in everything; In knowledge, abilities, weapons, and capabilities. Never before had an enemy even approached Our doorstep and into the Home, but this Leviathan, who we later called the Exterminator, easily swept into the threshold.

It obliterated Us with a veracity that clearly sought only Our complete annihilation. They killed thousands of Our Brothers and Sisters, tearing apart half the Home in one sweep. We attacked. With fire in our hearts and tenacity in our little bodies, we defended all that we loved with every inch of our being. We swarmed the Exterminator as if we were all one entity with a cooperation and system incapable of anything else on Earth. We are the many that make one! We are the many that make one! Again and again, we chanted, roared, and fought with the words spilling from our lips… but it was no use. They easily conquered over us. We never had a chance, and at the end of the day, all we faced in our efforts was death, despair, and loss.

Though more than half of Us perished and the bodies were countless, not all was lost. Mother was still alive, the Young Ones were saved, and the Home stretched too far and deep for the Exterminator to completely annihilate the Family. However, we were still met with more adversity. The Home needed to be rebuilt and soon we would all starve to death. Mother and the Young Ones could neither forage, hunt, nor defend themselves, and we were few in numbers after so much death, especially in Soldiers and Foragers.

There, in that bleak moment with hearts filled with determination and strength, my Siblings and I stood at the cusp of an evolutionary change never witnessed within our Home. In a valiant movement towards a better future, we casted away our childhood behaviors and equipped for a new lifestyle. We grew, both size and strength, and became the new defense for the Family. We were the new soldiers, the new frontline, and the new hope. It was time for the Outside to give us our own adventures. And as we made our way out into the alien, hostile land, an age-old phrase repeated in our minds like a broken record.  It engrained into my being just as it was for the Brothers and Sisters at my side: We were the many that made one.

For the Older Brothers and Sisters that survived, they never had to show us what to do. The changes in us came naturally and we went to our stations and tasks as if we knew it since birth. We were sectioned purely by our body shape. Some, like me, were Foragers. Smaller than the rest, we became the herders, gatherers, and harvesters. We were wild explorers that tamed the land. We found the seeds, fruits, and vegetables that the abundant land had to offer. No tree was too tall for us to climb or any forest too wild to manage. Upon the wide, open fields of the Outside, we found herds of animals called Cocci. They were weird looking creatures. Some were flat and long, with six legs, and a tiny head. The females, though, were plump, like six-legged grapes that scuttled from tree to tree. No matter the shape, each secreted a sweet nectar that we had to harvest from their bodies regularly. I spent many days in those fields, herding the Cocci to richer and sweeter feed. I would grasp hold of the thinner ones firmly, but the females—which we handled with extra care—rode safely on my head. Sometimes a rainstorm would threaten to sweep us away or a Leviathan would come to eat us. As the Foragers gathered the Cocci to a safe place, the Soldiers would courageously fight and save us.

The soldiers were bigger and stronger than we Foragers were. They were the hunters and defenders. While some would guard the Home and Foragers, others scavenged the land for meat. They were amazing, bringing in several Kilos a week by killing Leviathans 1000x our weight and size. And they came from anywhere, everywhere, in all forms of attacks. Some Leviathans would come snapping from the waters, some would swoop high from the air, others leapt from the bushes and trees that we gathered food from, and then some even sprang from the ground. Each snapping, clawing, biting, and attacking with weight and strength that far surpassed us, but we were resilient. Comrade with Comrade, Brother and Sister holding firm and together, we overcame all Leviathans. No matter the size, no matter the type strategy, no matter the tenacity, we were able to save the Home and secure our right to live. And when a massive kill was taken down, the Foragers would help take the meat apart. Whether we were gathering meat, fruits, vegetables, seeds, water, or nectar from the Cocci, we never ate anything for ourselves and nothing was ever stolen. Everything went straight to Mother. We never minded, because we were the many that made one.

With our efforts, the Home was flourishing again. Mother and the Young Ones worked hard inside while we toiled for them Outside. Everyone worked together to rebuild our once shattered lives. But not once, in our adventures and in our work, did we encounter the Exterminator.

The seasons changed and a drought stricken our land. The heat was so intense that it threatened to scorch us to death beneath an unforgiving hand. The vegetation became dry, brown, and brittle. The seeds disappeared and the fruit withered. Worst yet, the water disappeared. All the Leviathans that we hunted left us alone to our miserable land, searching for the food and water that was no longer here. We did not have the luxury to travel with them. Mother and the Young Ones could never leave the Home. If she died, we all would perish. If the Young Ones died, our future was lost. Though, they would all die eventually if we did not find food and water quick. Our last hope for any substance were the Cocci, and we let them go free to find better pastures. They would return in the Flourishing season. Until then, we had to scavenge deeper into unknown and unforgiving lands or the Family would not survive. As low rations made us desperate, we set out towards danger and death.

The Soldiers had to stay behind with the Family. They were too precious for us to leave abandoned for long periods of time. The Foragers would have to set out alone and with little defenses. The strategy was simple: Each Brother and Sister would set out by themselves and scour the land for something we could eat or drink. If there were anything, we would head back Home while making a trail to find our way back. Once we informed other Foragers, the group would march in a line back to the source, following the trail originally set. It was simple and effective. We found every scrap of meat, seed, vegetable, fruit, and water. Along the way, many of us were picked off by Leviathans. We no longer had Soldiers protecting us from the claws, jaws, and poisons. We found little after much loss, but it was something and we were happy to ensure the future of the Family with it. We overcame all obstacles as we banded together. We made easy work of everything as each Brother and Sister relied on the courage and diligence of the Sibling beside them. We were the many that made one.

It all changed when a Foraging scout returned home in excitement. Food, water, and an abundance of it! There was everything; fruits, vegetables, seeds, water, meat, strange nectars and other strange foods never to have touched our lips. It was a massive blessing of nourishment that not only could get us through the Dead season, but also through endless seasons beyond that! I was not one of them, but many Foragers went out to collect this precious gift from the Earth. I was not one of them. Many of us had to remain to look for other sources, just in case. They soon returned, revealing that the Forager was speaking the truth. (Of course, we never had a reason to lie. Our survival depended on the truth and unity of everybody.) For the first few hours, food, water, and nectar poured in without end. We only took what we needed, never wasting nor overindulging, but we did have a big Family to provide for. Joy and hope filled every heart and filled the Home. Finally, our despair had ended.

We should have known better.

We had taken from the Exterminator. We knew something bad happened when less than ten from thousands returned. Maddened and frantic, they spoke of meeting an Exterminator. It was a massive Leviathan, bigger than any we had ever seen. When it stepped, it squashed hundreds of Brothers and Sisters. In one sweep, it killed thousands. The Foragers fought, but it only tickled them.  As our blood and guts stained the battlefield, not one drop was spilled of theirs. Again, we were annihilated.

We could not give up, though. We needed that food and water. It was either die of starvation, dehydration, or under the merciless wrath of the Exterminator. Mother sent out bigger troops, but it never matter. It just increased the body count and the Exterminator got creative. Chemicals shriveled the lungs of those on the battlefield. The survivors were drenched in poison and a sickness started to kill us off from within the House. Family of all sizes and ages began dying now; the Older, the Middle, and the Young Ones, but not Mother. We could not let them get Mother or we all would die. But she was so desperate to get food for the starving Young Ones that she had the Soldiers forsake the Home and help the Foragers. It did not matter. The only result was now we were now starting to lack Soldiers in the Family. Eventually, I was one of the few that were chosen to replenish the lines. It was quick process and I gladly did it. I quickly grew bigger, equipped myself, and set out to the Exterminator’s domain.

As I make my way towards the battlefield, I am certain we will be the 627th to be lost. And in my march to death, I wonder, what did we do that was so bad? Our lives had been centered on caring and defending a Family that we all loved so much. We only took what we needed. So what had we ever done to earn this extermination? Other Leviathans attacked us for food, but the Exterminator killed only to kill; as if merely our presence a sin and a blemish to them.

I will die here with the rest of my Brothers and Sisters as we fight to defend and secure all that we know, all that we love, and all that is precious.

We are the many that make one.

Below is the author's description and inspiration for the story:

"Formicidae" was inspired by the documentary from BBC called, "ANTS--Nature's Secret Power." Within the documentary, they explained that ants are a highly sophisticated society full of engineers, workers, warriors, herders, agriculturists, and even have medicinal awareness. All this and we humans kill them by the thousands with only sweep of chemicals and poisons. Now, my message is not to have ants run rampart within your home. They are such a strong force of thousands making one being that they can and will take over your home if you allow them. I really want readers to build an appreciation for these creatures, and that they do help us. Ants keep other bug populations down. If not for ants, there would be swarms of mosquitoes, cockroaches, grasshoppers and locusts... not only is that disturbing and annoying, but destructive. (Locusts are veracious eaters and can kill whole crops, collapsing us into a state of low food supply and a crashing economy from destroyed farming aspects in the market.) Ants also clean up debris and waste. So next time you're cursing their existence with poison, bleach, and other chemicals, remember that they are just trying to survive in a harsh world and that they offer us so much.